what verb tense should I use on my resume?

A reader writes:

I was updating my resume today and was wondering about what tense to use. For my current job, do I use present tense and the rest of the resume past tense? Or should it all match, like all past tense or all present tense?

The simple rule is that you should use past tense for past jobs and present tense for your current job.

However, this doesn’t work in every situation. There might be things that you’ve achieved at your current job that are in the past and not currently ongoing, and for those it would usually be weird to use the present tense (like a wildly successful event you oversaw last year, or the five-month backlog of cases that you inherited and cleared in four weeks). For things like that, it’s fine to put them in past tense; that’s what will make the most sense and be accurate.

This does mean that you might have a mix of present and past tense for your current job, and that’s fine. (This is one of the few places where inconsistency on a resume is the right choice.)

One other, slightly pedantic note:  When you’re writing in present tense for your current job, note that you should use the verbs that you would use if you were talking about yourself in the first person (“sell,” “create,” “manage,” and so forth) rather than if you were talking about someone the third person (“sells,” “creates,” “manages”). And definitely don’t use the present participle form (“selling,” “creating,” managing”).

{ 42 comments… read them below }

  1. Iro

    I never thought about putting “cleared a 6-month backlog of reporting and analyses in four weeks” as an accomplishment on my resume! Thanks for that idea!

    Also I was totally guilty when it comes to only using the past tense throughout my resume.

  2. Kristen

    Hmm, so I never use the first person present for my current job, and I have never seen a candidate for anything I hired do that, though I realize that’s a limited sample size. I get using that perspective in writing the resume, but I also feel like I am writing the resume specifically for someone else to read where third person makes sense for the hiring manager’s purposes.

    1. BRR

      I’ve seen classmates write in third person on their LinkedIn profiles and it feels weird since they are the ones who wrote it. It feels like someone who is talking in third person.

      1. Stryker

        Stryker agrees with this statement, and wonders if the writers who post profiles like this honestly think it sounds good, or if they’re just copying other people–who, in turn, copied other people.

        Stryker would also like to smash things.

      1. Kristen

        I mean that when describing my current duties on my resume, I write about myself in the third person. I understand AAM’s point about the first person, but I just think it sounds bizarre in that context.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Just to be clear, it’s sort of implied first person. You’re not saying “I manage a team of six” but rather “manage a team of six” (as opposed to “manages a team of six”).

          1. Kristen

            Oh yeah, I knew you meant understood “I”. I still just think it sounds strange and honestly have never seen it like that on a resume.

            I think LinkedIn is a little different (for me) b/c it tends to be more casual and direct communication.

            I guess w/ my resume I think of situations like staff profiles on org websites, where often the person wrote the description herself for an audience of people who don’t know her. I suppose I’m just weird about my resume (I’d never write about myself in the 3rd person anywhere else), but I’m going to leave it the way it is.

            1. Stryker

              Honestly, Stryker thinks staff descriptions written like that are silly, when it’s clear the staff person him/herself wrote them. If it’s written on behalf of the company for the employee, fine; but when Stryker is writing about Stryker on Stryker’s behalf, third person looks… silly.

              Don’t you think?

              1. Kristen

                But it’s not always clear that that’s the case, and for some orgs the more formal tone is needed- first person can seem very familiar, and third might make more sense for other reasons.

                I just think 3rd works better with the flow of my resume. Who manages the team of 6? Kristen does, and it says Kristen at the top of the resume, not “I” or “Hi! I’m Kristen” (yes, even though we all know it’s me writing it). It is a little hard to explain why I see it that way…I never thought about it that much before.

                Kristen is fine with being the cheese that stands alone on this topic and understands that in almost all cases, Kristen writing about Kristen this way is very dumb; she doesn’t need heavy handed demonstrations of 3rd person to see that, but she thanks those who think she does anyway.

                1. Stryker

                  Stryker just enjoys writing like she’s the Hulk.

                  In all seriousness, while it’s obvious that the resume is written BY you, FOR your candidacy, writing in the third person–to me–reads as if you’re:

                  a.) Trying to be fancy and “hyperprofessional” in an intense effort to avoid insulting anyone;
                  b.) Not well-written enough to communicate effectively on your own, so you hired someone else to write the resume on your behalf–in which case a third-person writing makes sense, but sends up red flags; or
                  c.) Blindly following trends like those on LI.

                  My philosophy is that no matter how formal or informal a piece of writing is, it should sound like you speak. And–silliness aside–I never refer to myself in the third person, no matter the setting. I could be speaking with the company president, and the closest I’ll ever get to third-person is, “Well, we [in the Marketing Dep’t] think that the social media play should be executed in such-and-so a way.”

                  Consequently, writing a resume in the third person destroys your “voice.” Of course, I could be overanalyzing, considering I’m a writer by trade and I have to use *every* piece of the application to prove just how wonderful I am, but that’s how I see it.

                2. Kristen

                  Kristen is an editor who thanks Stryker-Hulk The Writer for telling her she’s not well-written and a merely a trend follower; she never would have realized what a loser she is otherwise. She sticks her tongue out at her computer and fondly remembers why she avoids internet commenting in general.

                  Fortunately, people who only ever write how they speak is why Kristen has a job as an editor. She appreciates a writer’s unique voice as much as anyone but knows the other scientists wouldn’t take her seriously if she didn’t use a formal style; she admits that this is kind of a bummer for her field (and is happy that science writing is becoming more accessible in general).

                3. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Wait, wait, I think you’re taking Stryker’s remarks as personal toward you when that’s not how they read to me. She’s just explaining why doesn’t like third person.

                4. Kristen

                  No, no- don’t worry. I think those are silly, overreaching things to assume about someone based on a few bullet points, and I was being silly in return, that’s all.

                  Seriously, though, conveying tone in comments is tough, and that’s why I hate commenting. (Apologies for seeming to take it personally.)

            2. Ask a Manager Post author

              I’d say about 95% of the resumes I see (and I see a lot!) are written in implied first person. Implied third person resumes are out there, but in my experience they’re in the minority (and because of that can read as a little odd-sounding).

        2. Sadsack

          Sorry for being thick-headed over this, but I just visualize what you mean by third person in this case. Are you saying that you write, “She manages a team of six,” as opposed to “I manage a team of six”?

            1. Sadsack

              I agree with what you suggested, and that’s how I wrote my resume. Maybe I am just being a blockhead. I don’t understand what Kristen means when she says she is using the third person. I am trying to picture what her resume looks like. I give up on it though.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                First person (implied) for stuff that’s present tense:
                * Manage a team of six
                * Clean teapots
                * Drink tea

                Third person (implied) for stuff that’s present tense:
                * Manages a team of six
                * Cleans teapots
                * Drinks tea

                1. Sadsack

                  Hey, thanks! Guess it’s been a while since I took a course in grammar. I could not fathom what Kristen was talking about, but this helps. Also, it is not nearly as weird as I imagined, but I still prefer the first-person version.

                2. Merry and Bright

                  I see more job adverts written in implied third tense at the moment so maybe some people feel a need to mirror this on the resume/CV. It feels awkward to me on either document though.

    2. Book Person

      I hire regularly (paid internships that start every 8 months, occasional full-time staff hiring), and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a resume in first person. Cover letters, definitely, but the resumes have always been in third person. The first person bullet points look strange to me now as a result.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Just to make sure we’re talking about the same thing, I’m not talking about writing “I do blah blah.” You wouldn’t use the “I.” Just the verb tense.

    3. AcademicAnon

      Probably depends on the industry some too, I’m looking at updating my resume and it will be hard to break the habit of third person coming from a research background.

  3. Meg

    I’ve always used the present participle (“negotiating discounts on teapot components”) but had never really thought about why… Why do you say never to do this? I’m happy to be wrong on this one, I’m just interested!

    1. louise

      I’m not speaking for AAM here, this is just my opinion: That’s needlessly verbose. The present participle must have helping verbs with it (“I have been negotiating” or “I worked at negotiating” for example) so when you leave them out, the brain has to fill them back in and makes for a cluttered, wordy resume.

      Be succinct. Be direct.

      1. Book Person

        I’ve usually seen it in the context of “duties at this position included: negotiating…drinking…” Etc.

        1. Meg

          Oh that’s a good point – I have sub headings for each job for ‘key responsibilities’ and ‘key achievements’ so I guess that makes a bit more sense to use that verb form?

    2. Formerly Bee

      It adds length. And, personal nitpicking here, it reminds me of McDonald’s: “I’m loving it” instead of “I love it.”

  4. done

    Hi Alison,

    I usually visit the site multiple times a day on my iPhone, and recently it’s been unbearable…the app store opening was irritating, but workable. But now there are ad-related redirects every single time I open the site, so I can’t even read it at all!

    I logged onto the site on my computer to leave this comment and say…please fix the ads! I’ll come back in a couple weeks and try again, and hopefully I will be able to resume my askamanager addiction! :)

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’m still working out some issues with my new ad network, but what you’re describing is unacceptable! If you see this, can you email me so I can get more details about what device you’re on, etc.?

      1. Aussie Teacher

        Just to balance out this POV – I haven’t had any ads on my iPhone the whole time I’ve seen other people mentioning it…

        Also when the links stopped working in your auto-updates on Facebook and then you fixed them, it now gives me a Notification (Ask A Manager posted an update) every time a new letter gets published, rather than only if you write a status update. I like never missing a letter this way!

  5. Verde

    I am finishing up hiring for two positions and one of the things I’ve noticed on a lot of the resumes that I’ve seen is the resume sounding like the applicant just regurgitated their job description into it. It tells you what they were responsible for, but doesn’t tell you what they accomplished. Plus, it doesn’t give the resume a consistent “voice”.

    1. Sunflower

      Can you elaborate on having a ‘voice’. Do you mean something that ties it all together or that it sounds too formal and stiff?

  6. éscargot agile

    What about present perfect – “have been analyzing teapots as part of a cross-functional team”, “have maintained the teapot codebase for 3 years”?

  7. Olivia

    I seriously love this website. I’m a fresh first generation graduate and this has been a wonderful resource. Thank you!!!

  8. Maria

    Hi, I am being asked by a recruiter to write my resume in third person. I am very confused in what I need to do because I was always told to not write resumes in third person. Any examples?

    Thanks

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